I am a special education teacher at East Rock Global Magnet School. Currently, I co-teach in the 8th grade. East Rock's population truly attests to the word "Global" in its name. As a magnet school we have students bussed from all areas of the city. We also have the city's New Arrival Center, for students who enter New Haven Public School system from other countries with little to no knowledge of the English language. Here they are exposed to the language and curriculum. They are slowly integrated into the mainstream population with continued support. The New Arrival Center adds students from all over the world to our population. In addition, East Rock also has a large population of students eligible to receive special education services under every disability allowed by law. This vast diverse population varies in economic standing, national origin, ethnicity and religious beliefs as well as academic achievement ability.
These students make East Rock global not only because of their national origin, but their background and their experiences. With all of their differences, they are very much alike. Society's and government's way of categorizing or identifying us creates the isolation of one group from another. In turn, the need for tolerance is created. I will venture to ask the question: "Why can't we be individuals with many qualities?"
I plan to teach this unit in Social Studies. The 8th grades social studies curriculum is an exploratory survey of the United States history. The students are expected to learn fundamental concepts, which include global perspectives and diversity, and are integrated through the curriculum. In Social Studies we teach about the arrival of America's voluntary immigrant population, which passed through Ellis Island on the east coast and Angel Island on the west coast; with and without documents, over land from Canada and Mexico at various times throughout history. I will be teaching this unit in a class that consists of students on grade level, special education students who are academically below grade level, hearing impaired students as well as English as Second Language (ESL) students. Because of the diversity of the class this unit could be applicable to 5th through 8th grade. The unit will be taught over the period of one marking period, 8 to 10 weeks.
At East Rock I have noticed that with all our good intentions I see groups of students isolated and grouped by their peers. Students who are in various programs such as special education, English as Second Language (ESL) and hearing impaired do not socialize wit peers outside their group until they are integrated into the mainstream via academic classes, elective classes or sports. Usually the one thing that they discover they have in common opens the lines of communication for them to discover more commonalities among them. At this point I have seen friendships grown.
Special education students who are in self-contained classrooms are really isolated. They tend to shy away from any socialization with their peers. This is to avoid negative confrontations that they have experienced in the past. When they are alone with their peers, without their special education teacher or teacher's assistant, their peers will usually attempt to talk to them first because of their inquisitive nature. When their attempts are not successful then they begin to add to the isolation. The special education students that are mainstreamed have already been socially accepted by their peers. The special education students are not usually identifiable by their peers unless they have a physical disability.
Hearing impaired students are isolated initially because of the language barrier. These types of students are usually accepted quickly. Their peers are interested in learning a different kind language (sign) or a new way to communicate secretly. Once the hearing impaired students see the interest of their peers they relax and attempt to teach some sign language. Some of their peer group will participate in sign language classes to foster better communication skills to enhance friendship.
ESL students have a harder time with socialization with their peers. Not only is there a language barrier; there are also unfamiliar behaviors and beliefs due to culture and ethnicity. Some of our ESL students are also refugees, who have never had any formal education. Although the United States is made up of many cultures and ethnicities, people who have been in the United States for a while have a sense of or take part in American culture. The ESL students do not even have that basic knowledge. Thus, integrating them into the mainstream is a much slower process than the aforementioned group. These students must be exposed to and gain some knowledge of the language, the curriculum and the culture before they can be integrated into the mainstream where those commonalities are identified and communication can begin, forming friendships. It is my hope that teaching this unit and introducing students to different cultures and ethnicities will enable them to be able to see that they have something in common from the start so that the communication process will not be delayed.